Susan Cattaneo live photo

Last Saturday, I did not win the New Folk Competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival. 32 of us competed for 6 winning slots, and I was not one of them. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt.

These days, when a Winner wins something, and the Loser is interviewed, it goes something like this…

Media person: “Wow, you just lost! How does it feel to be a Loser?” (microphone jammed up close to the Loser’s mouth.)

Loser: “Well, you know, the Winner is great, and it was just an honor to be nominated, blah, blah, blah.”

But speaking from experience, that is not really how a Loser feels. Losing hurts. There’s just no way around it. It is an intensely personal, gut-wrenching experience. And you feel tender and kinda vulnerable for a while, maybe just the first few minutes…or hours…or days.

I remember when I lost, thinking….Ouch….Yup, that burns, aches, and I kinda want to cry, throw up, and give up this music thing and take up knitting instead. I remember second guessing my songs, my performance, my voice, and my clothes. And I remember a hot flush in my face as I smiled and congratulated the winners.

But here’s the thing. Or a few things actually.

First thing: I got to experience Kerrville!  Wow, if you’re looking for an amazing community of devoted musicians and music lovers, look no further than this Texas festival.  When you first arrive at the ranch, a sign says, “Welcome Home”, and believe me, it’s true.   From the wonderful Lindsey Lee and Deb and Liz Rouse who hosted all us finalists at their campsite to artists like Betty Soo and RJ Cowdery who told us what to expect to the lovely Dalis Allen who gave us a warm and welcoming pre-show speech, I definitely felt like I was part of something special.  This is a true community of kindness, and it helped take my performance jitters down a notch.

Second thing: About the actual performance, I did my best. I was the best “me” up on that stage when I sang my songs. And there is pride in knowing that I gave my all for something. I believe that I delivered the best version of me for those eight minutes of my life. And I can live with that.

Third thing: There were 31 other people who felt the same way. And I love these 31 other artists with an affection I can’t even express. The contest ran over two days, and I got to hang out and laugh and play music with these people. I also got to witness them lay their souls out for the world to see on stage. And they were ALL glorious. The songs were wonderful, the performances were terrific, and everyone, I mean everyone, winners and non-winners, was good. There was so much diversity in us. Different styles, different vocal deliveries, different lyric stories told – I can only imagine how hard it must have been for the judges. How do you judge whether an orange is better than a lilac is better than a ghost? We were all that different. So, I am immensely proud and honored to have been part of this collective group of fabulous talent.

Last thing: Being a finalist was validation that what I do means something to someone other than me. And that’s something I treasure with all my heart. Sure, I’m disappointed. It would have been great to win. But it’s ok. It stings for a bit, but I’ll get over it. I’m lucky and grateful to have been in the game at all. Our days in Kerrville were marked by Armageddon-like storms and torrential rain. So, to run with a weather metaphor, I’m going to use this disappointment like a bag of sand to shore up strength and determination for whatever floods come my way in the future.

The way Kerrville works, is that the 26 of us who didn’t win are now part of something called Club 7, meaning that we all came in 7th place.

My ego is black and blue and aches slightly. So, I guess I am a “sore” loser.

But I’m a proud member of Club 7!

And I confess that it doesn’t hurt one bit to learn that some former Club 7 members include Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and Nancy Griffith.

Thanks to Dave Rackley – Awestruck Images for the photo.